Articles Posted in Auto Accidents

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If you’re injured in a Georgia car accident, it is imperative to work with an experienced plaintiff’s attorney, even if you believe a settlement can be reached with an insurer. It is important to retain an attorney before discussing the matter with the other driver’s insurer at all, and certainly before entering into settlement negotiations. In a recent Georgia case, the defendant’s vehicle hit the plaintiff’s vehicle. On appeal, the defendant argued that the lower court had erred in denying his motion to enforce a settlement agreement by prohibiting evidence and questioning about a treating doctor’s financial interest in the case, and by excluding evidence and questioning related to the treating doctor’s credibility and potential bias.

After the plaintiff claimed she’d been injured by the defendant’s car, she hired an attorney. Her attorney sent a settlement demand for the policy limits of $25,000 to the defendant’s insurer. On top of asking for payment, the settlement demand said it was contingent on receipt of certain sworn affidavits about how much insurance coverage was to be had and a limited release. If these conditions weren’t met and payment wasn’t made, the settlement demand would be withdrawn in 30 days.

The defendant’s insurer called to say it would pay policy limits. However, the insurer couldn’t’ issue the check right away and had to wait until defense counsel told her to do so. The plaintiff’s attorney said he would wait to hear back.

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It is important to examine the circumstances of a Georgia car accident closely to determine whether someone other than a driver is partially or fully to blame for an accident. In a recent Georgia appellate decision, a couple sued a mobile device app company for negligence and loss of consortium arising out of a car crash that they claimed arose from the app’s speed filter.

The plaintiffs claimed that the car accident had happened on September 10, 2015. The passenger in the back seat of the at-fault driver’s car alleged that she’d looked up to notice the car accelerating upwards of 80 mph. She allegedly asked the at-fault driver to slow down and said she was pregnant. The at-fault driver said she was trying to get the car to 100 mph to post it on the app. The car hit 113 mph before the at-fault driver let off the gas, and then the couple’s car came out of an apartment complex.

Due to the accident, the husband-plaintiff suffered permanent brain damage. The app was one that permitted users to take videos and photos and then share them with friends. It also has filters that permit a user to lay a drawing, graphic or words over their videos and photos. One filter was a speedometer to show the speed of the user’s vehicle.

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In a Georgia wrongful death lawsuit, the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia certified two questions to the Georgia Supreme Court. It asked whether the damages that could be recovered in a wrongful death lawsuit brought by a decedent’s survivors were restricted by a settlement entered into by the decedent’s guardian in a prior personal injury lawsuit settling all claims that could have been brought in the suit. If this question was answered in the affirmative, the lower court also asked what components or wrongful death damages would be barred in Georgia.

The case arose when a woman was involved in a car accident in 1992. She went into a coma due to a head injury from the accident. As her legal guardian, her husband sued the car manufacturer and another for the injuries. The plaintiff claimed that there was a defective seatbelt latch and door-locking mechanism and that these caused her injuries.

The jury tried the case, but before it came back with a verdict, the manufacturer and plaintiff entered into a high-low settlement agreement. This guaranteed that there would be a recovery for the plaintiff in case there was a verdict for the manufacturer but limited the manufacturer’s exposure in case the jury found for the plaintiff. The jury found for the plaintiff, awarding $30 million for pain and suffering, over $400,000 for medical expenses already incurred, and $6 million for future care and living expenses.

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In a recent Georgia car accident, and appellate decision was reached after the passengers in a car going southbound on I-75 were injured when an unknown driver swerved into their lane. The driver of the passenger’s car slammed on the brakes. A driver behind that car was allegedly following too closely and rear-ended the passengers’ car. The unknown driver ran away from the scene.

The passengers sued the rear-driving car and also sued the unknown driver, using a “Doe” designation under the Georgia uninsured motorist statute. Under OCGA § 33-7-11 (b) (2), a motor vehicle is deemed uninsured where an owner or operator of the motor vehicle isn’t known. The defendant sued under OCGA § 33-7-11 (d) (1) of that statute, which states that a John Doe defendant’s home will be presumed to be the county where an injury-producing accident happens or the plaintiff’s home county.

The rear-driver moved to transfer the venue to the venue where he lived, but this motion was denied. On appeal, he asked the appellate court to consider whether the venue provision of the uninsured motorist law applied in a lawsuit related to a car crash brought against a known Georgia resident and a defendant who is unknown under the theory of joint tortfeasor liability.

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In Georgia vehicle accident cases, determining liability can often be very complicated. First there are questions of driver negligence, driving under the influence or falling asleep at the wheel. Next there are product liability questions – did a car part fail or did some key mechanism not do what it was supposed to? Third, there are environmental factors. Perhaps roads were not properly marked or signs weren’t obvious, making it more likely that an accident would occur. All of these types of issues can create complicated questions of liability and require plaintiffs to bring lawsuits against many different parties. This is illustrated by a recent case before the Georgia Court of Appeals looking at the liability of the Georgia Department of Transportation versus independent road contractors.

In Stopanio v. Leon Fence, LLC, A.S. brought claims against the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) and independent construction contractors who performed work at the site of an accident. At the time of the accident, A.S. was driving to Florida with her parents. Her parents were in a car immediately in front of hers when a vehicle driving in the opposite direction drifted across the center lane and struck her parent’s SUV. This caused the airbags to deploy. The car swerved left, hit a guardrail and then bounced into a concrete pileway. The SUV exploded into fire and A.S.’s parents were killed instantly. A.S. was also injured when trying to respond to the accident. A.S. brought claims against both defendants as personal representative of her parent’s estate: a wrongful death and personal injury claim.

The independent contractors who had done road construction on the area where the accident occurred filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that GDOT had accepted their construction work prior to the accident and taken over control of the area. Accordingly, they were no longer liable for any injury that might result from the condition of the road. The lower court agreed and granted the motion to dismiss. A.S. appealed.

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In many Georgia litigation cases, actually filing a complaint in court is the option of last resort. Particularly in accident cases where the liability of one party is clear, both parties can typically avoid the time and expense of court time if they can agree to a settlement before a complaint is ever filed. These types of pre-filing resolutions are increasingly popular as parties look to minimize risk and keep costs low. When engaging in settlement, however, the parties must be careful to keep tabs on pending offers and upcoming deadlines or risk losing the opportunity to settle prior to litigation.

This is illustrated in a recent case before the Georgia Court of Appeals. In that case, Y.C. was driving her vehicle in Georgia when she was injured in an accident where M.S. hit her car. After the two parties exchanged information, Y.C. hired an attorney and the attorney sent a demand letter to M.S. for the amount of M.S.’s policy limits, $25,000. The demand letter indicated that M.S. had 30 days to provide payment or the offer would be withdrawn. Over the next few weeks, the parties exchanged emails about the details of a possible settlement, including inquiries into whether any liens existed and how payment would be made. M.S.’s counsel explained that he was “facilitating settlement of the matter.” However, the 30 days passed without actual payment of the demand.

Several weeks later, M.S.’s attorney tendered the payment of the $25,000 check, but Y.C.’s counsel explained that they were rejecting the check because M.S. had delayed beyond the deadline imposed in the demand letter. Y.C. then filed a lawsuit against M.S. for negligence. M.S. filed a motion to enforce the settlement agreement between the parties, but the court denied it, finding that under the terms of the demand letter, M.S. had not accepted Y.C.’s offer. The case continued to trial and the jury awarded Y.C. $700,000. M.S. appealed.

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Jury instructions are an often overlooked but incredibly important part of the trial process. The instruction that a jury receives helps them understand and evaluate the case, and make a determination about the ultimate issues. Jury instructions can be crafted in a certain way to help tell a party’s story in the jury room, or to include (or omit) certain key details. For all of these reasons, when courts improperly include or exclude certain jury instructions, this is an issue that is often ripe for appeal.

In this Georgia car accident case, A.A. and L.M. were driving in different directions down a two-lane road. As they approached each other, A.A.’s vehicle drifted across the center line and ran into L.M.’s vehicle, causing significant injuries. L.M. sued A.A. for negligence and negligence per se.  L.M. established that A.A. had violated Georgia state statutes when his vehicle crossed the center line, which constituted negligence per se.  The burden then shifted to A.A. to provide a defense for his actions.

A.A. presented evidence at trial that his steering column was defective and that his auto mechanic had installed the defective steering column a few days earlier. A.A. testified he had no knowledge of the defect until he lost control of his ability to steer on the day of the accident and ran into L.M.’s car. A.A. then asked for a jury instruction, explaining that in order for A.A. to be held liable for the damages incurred as a result of this defective condition, he had to have knowledge of the defective condition.  The trial court explained to A.A.’s counsel that he could certainly make this argument to the jury, but the jury instruction would not be included because it was more than what was necessary. The jury ultimately awarded L.M. $30 million in damages. A.A. appealed.

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Many times in an auto accident case, a defendant will have only a limited amount of automobile insurance, or perhaps no insurance at all. When this happens, plaintiffs can try to recover against their own insurance company under an uninsured motorist claim. While uninsured motorist claims are usually used when third-party defendants don’t have insurance, some plaintiffs have tried to creatively plead them to apply to their own vehicles or vehicles they drive. A recent case illustrates this attempted approach.

In this Georgia truck accident case, J.H. was injured as a result of an accident involving a truck he drove for work. J.H. worked for M.R., doing business as Rose Logging. J.H. drove a large logging truck for M.R. for work. He could return the truck to work at the end of his shift or drive it home. At the time the accident occurred, J.H. was driving the truck from a logging site to a wood yard when two of his tires blew out. J.H. pulled over to the side of the road to replace the tires. M.R. arrived to assist him in putting a replacement tire on that could be used to drive the truck to a repair site to have both tires replaced.

M.R. began inflating the replacement tire and then turned it over to J.H. to finish. While the tire was inflating, it blew off the wheel and struck J.H., causing him serious injuries.  J.H. made a claim against Rose Logging’s insurer and received $100,000, the limit of that policy. However, J.H.’s injuries exceeded $100,000, so J.H. then brought a claim under his own insurance policy against his insurance provider for an uninsured motorist claim. J.H.’s insurer moved for summary judgment, and the court granted the summary judgment motion, finding that J.H.’s truck was not an uninsured vehicle under Georgia’s statutes. J.H. appealed.

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Governmental immunity can be a confusing concept under Georgia law. As illustrated in past cases on this blog, some government officers and agencies can be found immune from litigation, while others may fall in special exceptions that prevent them from being held liable in a lawsuit. A recent Georgia car accident case before the Georgia Court of Appeals looks at how Georgia’s governmental immunity doctrines apply to county sheriffs in the state.

In this case, S.D. was driving in Calhoun, Georgia when he attempted to make a left turn at a local intersection. S.D. waited for all oncoming traffic before beginning his turn, but, as he turned, a local sheriff, R.M., attempted to pass S.D. on his left hand side. S.D.’s vehicle ran into R.M., and R.M.’s vehicle collided with S.D.’s driver’s side door. Because of the accident, S.D. continued to suffer from lingering back, neck, and leg pain. Importantly, at the time of the accident, R.M. was driving a county-owned sheriff’s vehicle on his way to business at the sheriff’s office evidence room.

S.D. immediately sued R.M. and Gordon County for the injuries he experienced. He alleged that R.M. had negligently driven his vehicle and that Gordon County was vicariously liable for R.M.’s actions. S.D.’s claims against the County were dismissed due to a failure to provide them with adequate notice, and R.M. moved for summary judgment on the claims against him, arguing that he had governmental immunity because he was in the course of his employment when the accident occurred. The trial court ultimately agreed that R.M. was entitled to governmental immunity and dismissed the claims against him. S.D. appealed.

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Sometimes in personal injury and car accident cases, individuals who have not actually caused the accident themselves can also be held liable for the injuries that result. This is often known as vicarious liability. Examples of vicarious liability include employers that are held liable for the actions of their employees, or principals who are held liable for their agents. A recent case before the Georgia Court of Appeals looks closely at whether vicarious liability can occur when the employee or agent is not held liable themselves.

In this Georgia auto accident case, T.A. was injured after she was involved in a car accident with C.L. and D.B. At the time, C.L. was allowing his grandson to drive his car as practice shortly after receiving his driver’s license. D.B. collided with T.A. while he was driving. T.A. suffered serious injuries as a result of the accident.

T.A. sued D.B. for her injuries and also sued C.L. as the family member who allowed D.B. to drive, under the doctrine of family purpose. Under the family purpose principle, family members who own a car and allow others to drive it can be held responsible when those individuals cause an accident. The doctrine arose as a result of the fact that when those who were injured sued younger drivers, or the elderly, for their injuries, the defendants frequently had no assets and were virtually judgment proof. In order to give plaintiffs a better chance of recovery, the family purpose doctrine was expanded to allow plaintiffs a better chance of recovery.

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